Return to Transcripts main page
State of the Union
Interview With Maine Senator Susan Collins; Interview With Arizona Senator Jeff Flake; Remembering John McCain; Interview With Senator John McCain's Former Campaign Adviser Steve Duprey; Riding With The Maverick, Covering McCain Over 20 Years; Remembering The Life And Legacy Of Senator John McCain. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired August 26, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Senator John McCain, the admiral's son who chose captivity and torture, rather than violate a principle of honor, the self-styled straight-talking maverick.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.
TAPPER: Republican nominee for president.
MCCAIN: Fight for what's right for our country!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TAPPER: A man who would defend his opponents.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's an Arab. He's not.
MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a decent family man.
TAPPER: And demonstrate grace in loss.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama has achieved a great thing. Join me in offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort.
TAPPER: Above all, a flawed, but principled lifelong public servant.
MCCAIN: I tried to deserve the privilege as best I can. And I have been repaid 1,000 times over with adventures, with good company, with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself. And I am so grateful.
TAPPER: John McCain's iconic American journey has reached its end.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is in morning, the loss of a senator, father, maverick, American hero.
John Sidney McCain III, his remarkable life coming to an end at 81 years old, after being diagnosed with brain cancer last year.
Facing such adversities with courage was his trademark. Whether it was enduring repeated torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese for more than five years, or during grinding political campaigns, or the early-morning thumbs-down that turned his own party on its head, McCain was a case study in resilience to the very end.
His daughter, Meghan McCain, who was at the senator's side when he died, recently wrote -- quote -- "All that I am is thanks to him. Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations and his love."
The measure of this man not only displayed by the tributes and kind words and prayers from his political allies, but from his former adversaries.
His death coming nine years to the day that his good friend Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy died from the same disease.
About a year ago, in one of his final network interviews, already facing this grim diagnosis, I asked the senator how he wanted to be remembered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: How do you want the American people to remember you?
MCCAIN: He served his country, and not always right, made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors, but served his country. And I hope we could add honorably.
TAPPER: I think that we can say honorably.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Joining us now to reflect on the life and legacy of Senator McCain is his fellow Republican and now senior Senator from Arizona Jeff Flake.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us on this horrible, horrible weekend.
You have had a close relationship with your fellow Arizona senator. Did you get a chance to say goodbye to him?
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I did.
I was privileged to be there the day before he passed, to be there with family. And I was so glad that I was able to be there.
TAPPER: Did you -- did you get to say anything, or was he not in a condition to receive visitors?
FLAKE: You know, the entire family was gathered around. The door was open, Oak Creek just dribbling. It was just an incredible, wonderful scene to see the family and to see him and to express my appreciation to them and to him.
So I was just privileged to be there.
TAPPER: I want to show you this headline from "The Washington Post" editorial board this meeting (sic).
The editorial board titles their tribute to the senator, "John McCain: The Irreplaceable American."
And they write: "Mr. McCain on numerous occasions rose above party politics to pursue what he honestly saw as the national interest, and he accomplished a great deal. The country has lost an irreplaceable asset."
What do you think the loss of Senator McCain will mean for the Senate and for the U.S.?
FLAKE: Well, his voice was important to -- has been for years, but never more important than the past year.
And that's one thing that I expressed to the family, the gratitude of all of us that they took such good care of John and made sure that he was able to speak in this -- these last few months, when it was so important.
So it's tough to have a voice like that silenced. But this voice for civility, to put the country above your party, these are things that he taught for years, and never more important than -- than the last year.
TAPPER: His life, his entire life really, was devoted to serving the United States, including enduring more than five years of confinement and torture in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. And he suffered injuries that he felt literally for the rest of his life.
Here's what he said in his speech to the American Red Cross in 1999 -- quote -- "War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality."
How did you see his experience in Vietnam in terms of how it shaped his character and how it shaped the way he lived his life?
FLAKE: Well, he said many times that he grew to appreciate his country when he was serving time in another country.
And he didn't fully appreciate what he had until he served as a prisoner of war. I do think that that left an indelible mark. He could have come home and retired right after that, and have served the country so honorably. But we were fortunate to have another 30 or so years where he told us, taught us to put the country above yourself, to serve a cause greater than yourself. And that, I think, came from his experience in Vietnam, and certainly came from what he saw, were the tragedies of war.
But he was a lover of freedom. And he wanted to spread that, and was an advocate to the end of strong American leadership and never apologizing for America and its values.
That's something that he leaves with us.
TAPPER: He was often unpredictable.
Let's just show that moment from last summer where Senator McCain entered the Senate chamber late at night and cast the deciding vote to kill a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. That's a plan you voted the other way on.
You talked to him on the Senate floor right before that vote. What was that conversation like?
FLAKE: Well, yes, I did.
And he -- John McCain is quintessentially Arizona. He's a maverick. He's independent.
I didn't vote the same way he did, but I admired him for doing what he did. And it was -- it was John through and through.
He, as he spoke to the Senate at that time, talked about how we needed to come together and not do things in just a partisan way. That was his biggest issue with that approach that we were taking, that it wasn't a bipartisan approach. He recognized -- and he was a huge institutionalist and loved the Senate because the Senate forces individuals and parties to come together.
And he wasn't seeing that. And we haven't been that kind of institution for a while. So, I understood, certainly, why he voted the way he did. And I admired him for it.
TAPPER: You have been very outspoken about the direction of the Republican Party and, in your view, the failures of President Trump.
How much did Senator McCain play any sort of role or influence you in any way in the position you have taken?
FLAKE: Well, I have admired John McCain my entire life. I have haven't known Washington or politics without him. So he's -- he's left an indelible mark.
And just putting -- putting the good of the country above your own self-interest, I think that that was his mantra. And whether it's his approach to the current administration or his approach in general, I think that that's something I have certainly learned from him, and we could all learn in these days.
And seeing the good in your opponents, that -- the fact that George W. Bush will be speaking at his funeral, or that he was asked to, a person that defeated him, and also Barack Obama, that says all that we need to know about John McCain, that his opponents love, admire and respect him.
That's -- that's something that we can all strive for.
TAPPER: Notably absent from the funeral, of course, will be President Trump, who will not be invited, per Senator McCain's wishes.
President Trump denigrated McCain, denigrated his war heroism.
Do you think that there's something about the character of Senator McCain that will be all the more missed because of the man who's in the White House right now?
FLAKE: Well, we -- we have certainly needed John McCain's voice over the past year. And despite the circumstances, we have had it.
And I just -- I think that we could do with this kind of approach to politics, and we would do well to remember John McCain and his legacy as we go forward. So, I know that that's what he would like.
One of my last long conversations with John for probably over an hour was in February of this year, as we sat out on the deck, and we reminisced about the old Arizona politicians that he knew and admired so much, people like Mo Udall, a Democrat, and the local figures here as well.
But he expressed optimism at that time that leaders would rise to the fore in the future who would put the good of the country above themselves. And so I think that we ought to take that forward.
TAPPER: I want to play for you a clip from Senator McCain talking about you on the Senate floor last year after you announced that you would not run for reelection.
Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: One of the great privileges of my life has been to have the opportunity to know you and serve with you.
When the Flake service to this country and this Senate is reviewed, it will be one of honor, of brilliance, and patriotism, and love of country.
And I thank you, and God bless you and your family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's it like to hear those words today?
FLAKE: It's tough. I'm going to miss him.
FLAKE: I -- I have admired him, like I said, my -- my entire life.
And it's -- it's tough to imagine the Senate without him. It's tough to imagine politics without John McCain. But we need to go on.
TAPPER: Senator Jeff Flake, thank you so much for coming in, in what I know is a very difficult morning for you. We appreciate your sharing your thoughts and your memories of the senator.
FLAKE: Thank you.
TAPPER: Coming up: In his more than 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Senator John McCain was known as someone willing to go against his party, even at the highest personal or political cost.
Republican Senator Susan Collins served with McCain for 21 years. She will reflect on her friend next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Let's trust each other. Let's return to regular order.
We have been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That's an approach that's been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.
We are getting nothing done, my friends. We're getting nothing done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That was Senator John McCain in a fiery speech on the Senate floor last year, a dramatic return to his colleagues after that iconic thumbs-down vote to stop the repeal of Obamacare.
McCain spent time criticizing the process Republicans used and called on his colleagues to change the tone and behavior of the Senate.
There were only two other Republicans who broke with their party and join McCain's no-vote.
One of those senators, Susan Collins from Maine, joins us right now.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us on this horrible, horrible morning. You spent more than two decades in the Senate with Senator McCain.
You have -- you have been willing to buck your party and work across the aisle, as he tried to do. What will the Senate be like without him?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: We will really be missing such an important voice for national unity.
John McCain felt very strongly about virtually every issue that he tackled, but it was never based in partisanship. He didn't try to score partisan points as he worked on issues. He would work with anyone who wanted to accomplish the goal that he shared.
TAPPER: You, Senator Murkowski and Senator McCain, you three voted no last summer on that plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Before he did that famous thumbs-down, I think that he talked to you and Murkowski. What did you talk about?
COLLINS: He did.
Lisa and I crossed the Senate floor to where John was sitting. And we knew that he was struggling with the issue. And we sat down and started talking with him. And, all of a sudden, he pointed to the two of us and said, you two are right.
And that's when I knew that he was going to vote no. At that point, I felt a tap on my shoulder. And it was Vice President Pence, who had been sent to lobby John and make a last-ditch appeal. So, I stepped aside, so that they could have their conversation.
But once John McCain made up his mind about something, there was no shaking him. And I knew that he would be there on the final vote. And, again, it was an example of his determination to do what he thought was right.
And that is a quality that marked his entire life.
TAPPER: If Senator McCain were here right now -- I can almost hear his voice -- he would be the first to point out that he's a very flawed man, that he made a lot of mistakes, that he had a lot of characteristics he wanted to work on.
One of them was, he could lose his temper. Were you ever on the receiving end of that temper?
COLLINS: I think virtually anyone who worked closely with John occasionally saw him lose his temper.
He did with me on one particular issue that was before the Armed Services Committee, when we were both sharing on it.
But the wonderful thing about John is, it would pass, and eventually he would apologize, he'd come up and gruffly on the Senate floor say, I realized I kind of overdid it there.
But you always knew, when he did get angry about something, that it was because he sincerely believed that you were wrong on an issue, and he was trying to straighten you out.
So he did try to straighten me out, not successfully on that particular issue. But, over the years, we had a wonderful relationship. And he was a real mentor to me.
I think this is a part of John McCain that a lot of people don't know about, is that he took younger senators under his wing. And, in my case, I -- he taught me so much about national security and foreign policy, even when we didn't always agree. He took me four times with him to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I'll never forget the first trip to Iraq. It was the very early stages of the war. And we did a spiral landing at Bagram Air Base. I was absolutely terrified.
And he was just chatting with Joe Lieberman, and he reached over and he said to me, "Don't worry, Susan."
I remember so clearly now.
"I have been through so much. I'm going to die at home in my own bed."
And I couldn't help but think of that yesterday, that at least he was at his beloved Sedona.
TAPPER: Yes, he would always say that he couldn't...
COLLINS: And with his family.
TAPPER: He couldn't be killed in a plane. He'd been through five plane crashes or something like that, including when he was shot down by the North Vietnamese.
Obviously, the senator is going to be missed here in the United States, but he was also -- he was an international figure. He had taken the role recently of reassuring American allies amid the turbulence of the Trump administration.
Allied countries such as Canada and Germany have expressed condolences, including this line from the German Embassy -- quote -- "Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Senator John McCain, to the people of Arizona and America, whom he served so admirably. We remember him as a champion of the transatlantic alliance and a friend of Germany."
And that's a -- that's a really strong statement for an ally to make, a champion of the transatlantic alliance. Obviously, this comes when President Trump is not seen as such a champion.
Do you think the global order is less secure without John McCain in the world?
COLLINS: He certainly led the way in his no-barred comments, where he made very clear that he disagreed with the direction of this administration, that he was such a strong supporter of NATO, of our allies.
Every single year, he went to conferences in Munich and in Nova Scotia to reaffirm America's commitments to our allies. And I think that was extremely important. He continued to do that, even from Arizona, when he was ill.
And he inspired others of us also to speak out. And that was important. His voice will be missed, but his legacy in that area certainly lives on.
TAPPER: What do you think is his legacy? What is the most important part of his legacy? What should the American people take away from the life he led?
COLLINS: What the American people should know was that John McCain was a true patriot, a man who loved his country, who would do anything to advance his country, a man who believed in national unity, who put his country about (sic) himself, who lived a life of self-sacrifice, and who is an inspiration, not only to those of us who serve now, but to future generations as well.
TAPPER: And as somebody who was a friend of his, what are you going to miss most on a personal level, beyond what he represented, beyond bipartisanship, beyond national service? What will you miss about your friend?
COLLINS: I'm going to miss the fact that he was so much fun.
He has -- had a great sense of humor. And I traveled extensively with him and saw that firsthand. I went to his ranch in Sedona several years ago. I went to Antarctica with him.
His capacity to learn and his insatiable curiosity were extraordinary. So, I'll miss that as well.
But, frankly, I will miss how much fun he was and how much I learned from him. And he leaves a big hole in my heart.
And my -- my condolences go out to Cindy. I talked to her just about 10 days ago. And I knew the end was coming.
But he is irreplaceable.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, thanks for much for coming with us and sharing your members of your friend.
COLLINS: Thank you, Jake. TAPPER: A measure of John McCain's worth, the love and fierce loyalty
he inspired in those who shared his remarkable journey.
Up next: a brother in arms on the campaign trail and a friend to the end.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
President Trump lowered flags at the White House to half-staff to honor the late Senator John McCain last night.
It's a house he nearly occupied once, Senator McCain.
One moment in particular from that grueling 2008 campaign reminds us what he was all about. He stood up for the man who would go on to beat him for the presidency, then Senator Barack Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's not -- he's not -- he's a -- he's an Arab. He's not...
MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that's what this campaign is about. He's not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Joining me now is a close friend and senior adviser throughout the 2008 campaign for Senator McCain, Steve Duprey.
Steve, thanks for -- thanks for joining us.
We just heard that now iconic moment when Senator McCain pushed back against the conspiracy theories and stood up for the man he was running against.
You were there with Senator McCain for that exchange. Tell us about it.
STEVE DUPREY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO JOHN MCCAIN: It was one of the best moments of the campaign. And it was such a typical example of who John was.
He and Senator Obama had some pretty sharp disagreements on policy. And it was a tough campaign. And they were punching and counterpunching.
But John had a sense of honor and a sense of decency about what campaigns should be about. And he wasn't about to let that kind of attack go unanswered, even if it was on his opponent.
And I can tell you, during the campaign, there were a number of times when consultants and advisers suggested that John should do ads criticizing president -- then Senator Obama about his relationship with Reverend Wright.
And John McCain flat-out refused. He said he didn't want to ever see ads like that, that people were talking about that his job was to win, but if he couldn't win reaching out to the better angels of our nature, he'd rather lose.
And he did a great job in that campaign. And there were folks who would want to exploit some of those issues.
TAPPER: You had a long friendship with McCain, spanned back decades, thousands of places across the country, from your days on this campaign.
You have been visiting with him monthly during this time that he's been -- he's been fighting cancer. Tell us about what this last year has been like.
DUPREY: John faced his prognosis the same way he did everything else in life, matter of fact, straightforward, incredible sense of humor, but also every time we visited reminding us that your time on this Earth is finite.
Nobody gets out of here alive, as he said to me, and that you should make every day count. He loved the year he had. He had some wonderful times with his family, got to see a lot of friends, did some really important work right up until the very end.
That's just so John McCain.
TAPPER: That moment from 2008, when that woman told Senator McCain that she didn't trust Obama, he was an Arab, et cetera, and he said, no, no, no, he's -- he's a decent family man, we just disagree, I have to say it feels like a different era watching that -- watching that clip during today's political climate, given the fact that so many people, including the president, the current president, traffic in conspiracy theories, traffic in smears and lies.
What was different about Senator McCain than what you see today in Washington?
DUPREY: John McCain really wanted to be president. And I think he would have been a terrific president. But he didn't want it so badly that he would do things that would undermine or give people pause about their faith in the goodness of this country and its leaders.
And I think we'd all do well to try and hearken back to that example going forward.
And one of the things that was remarkable, of course, about the 2008 campaign is the grace with which John McCain handled defeat.
I want to play a clip from the concession speech, November 2008.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Senator Obama and I have had an argued our differences, and he has prevailed.
No doubt, many of those differences remain. I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What was it like for him to lose on a personal level, because he obviously publicly handled it with such grace? But that's not easy for people.
There are -- there are folks who have come close to winning the presidency who we still see years later are struggling with it psychologically.
And I'm not diminishing it. I'm not demeaning it. It can't be an easy thing to do, to lose like that. What was it like for him?
DUPREY: That was another remarkable attribute of John.
He used to tell a joke, which he did repeatedly in his Senate campaigns afterwards, that he accepted the loss very well, and he slept like a baby. He would sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours.
DUPREY: And it was one of his standard joke lines.
TAPPER: Yes, I have heard that one.
DUPREY: But the truth is, he didn't.
After that night -- and I was privileged to be there. I gave him a hug before he went out on the stage to give that speech and after he left it.
The next morning, he and his family were at their cabin. He spent a few days taking calls from friends, licking his wounds. And then he bounced right back up and went to work in the Senate, and I think, frankly, had even more effectiveness and more stature in the Senate because of that example.
And when we would talk about it, he never really wanted to look back. He said: I did the best I could. It was a time for change. Folks were tired of eight years of a Republican administration. And then Senator Obama represented sort of a look forward that he said an older guy with gray hair couldn't capture.
But he really had no regrets. And he didn't spend time in remorse about it. He just jumped up and went -- that was John. He was restless. And he went on to the next challenge and did important and great work.
So he accepted defeats in life more graciously and gracefully than almost anybody I have ever seen in public life.
TAPPER: Accepted defeat more graciously than I have seen some people accept victory.
Steve Duprey, thank you so...
TAPPER: Thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
And our deepest condolences on the loss of your friend.
DUPREY: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: I've spent 20 years on planes, trains, automobiles reporting on Senator John McCain from the straight talk express to one of his last interviews. We'll take a special look back at covering an American original, next.
TAPPER: We're honoring the life of Senator John McCain this morning. He died last night at the age of 81 after a life of military and public service.
Covering John McCain was a lot like John McCain himself. It was complicated. It was a lot of work. It was full of contradictions but it was fun and ultimately full of meaning.
TAPPER (on camera): How are you?
(voice-over): The very last time I interviewed Senator John McCain he was blunt.
MCCAIN: But, Jake, you know, every life has to end one way or another.
TAPPER: It was the kind of straight talk that characterized the Arizona senator's career. I first met him aboard his campaign bus the Straight Talk Express in 1999.
MCCAIN: Look at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five times. Yes.
TAPPER: He was an underdog Republican presidential candidate. A bona fide war hero and a sitting U.S. senator when I was just a young campaign reporter, but I got to spend a lot of time with him. And I learned a lot about his contempt for the phoniness of politics, about how to handle adversity and about the importance of honoring veterans.
MCCAIN: Thank you. I salute you.
TAPPER: I got to ride on the Straight Talk Express again when he ran in 2008.
(on camera): Do you have the fire in the belly to win this like you did last time?
(voice-over): McCain described the politician reporter relationship as adversarial and as I've learned, that's not a bad thing. What matters is how it's conducted.
MCCAIN: By all means, let us argue, our differences are not petty, they often involve cherished beliefs and represent our best judgment about what is right for our country and humanity.
TAPPER: McCain fought fiercely knowing the disagreements did not necessarily mean disrespect.
MCCAIN: It was good fight. And we should be very proud.
TAPPER: He also knew that losses even of presidential proportion, were no reason for remorse.
MCCAIN: I won't spend a moment of the future regretting what might have been. This campaign was and will remain the great honor of my life.
TAPPER: Serving with honor, it's something the third generation naval officer knew quite well.
MCCAIN: I've never lived a day in good times or bad that I didn't thank God for the privilege of serving the United States of America.
TAPPER: His time in service included being shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for five and a half years.
He was tortured.
MCCAIN: I was on a flight over the city of Hanoi?
TAPPER: As the son of an admiral he was offered early released but refused so those longer held men could return home before him. Years later he was still gracious and he often joked he was invincible.
MCCAIN: I survived many near death experiences and so I think that I'm really the most fortunate person that I've ever known or heard of.
TAPPER: In 2000, I remember a turbulent flight on his piece of junk campaign plane.
(on camera): People on the plane were scared, I was scared, you were standing in the aisle holding a glass of vodka, I think and you were saying, they can't kill me in a plane.
(voice-over): McCain seemed happy with the life he led because it was a life of service.
MCCAIN: There's nothing more nobler than serving a cause greater than oneself.
TAPPER: In tough times on the campaign trail he liked to share a favorite quote.
MCCAIN: Was reminded of the words of Chairman Mao who once said, it's always darkest before it's totally black, but anyway --
TAPPER: But in his final days, Senator John McCain seems as alight with passion and purpose as ever. He spurred his fellow senators to remember their mission to the public.
MCCAIN: We are getting nothing done, my friends, we're getting nothing done.
TAPPER: Nearly two decades after I wrote my first story on the maverick, John McCain, my final question for him in an interview was the most difficult to ask. And oddly it was perhaps the easiest for him to answer.
(on camera): How do you want the American people to remember you?
MCCAIN: He served his country and not always right. Made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors but served his country and I hope we could add honorably.
TAPPER: And I think we can add honorably.
My panel is with me now.
Bill, let me start with you.
It's such quintessential John McCain that you ask him, how do you want to be remembered, and his first sentence is something nice, and then his next three sentences are acknowledging his flaws. And there just aren't a lot of politicians like that.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": No, there's -- there was a genuine humility with John that went with the pride, obviously, in what he had accomplished, and huge loyalty to the country, obviously.
Dana and I were talking about this earlier, that wonderful clip you showed, that he loved to say that it's always darkest before it turns pitch black. And he used to ascribe this to Chairman Mao.
And I remember once saying to him, did Chairman Mao really say that, because isn't it -- it's like an English, presumably, language joke.
KRISTOL: I mean, the phrase which makes the joke is, it's always darkest before dawn. Maybe they have that in Chinese. I don't know.
And John just said: "I don't know. Someone once told -- it seemed like -- it's funnier -- it's funnier when you ascribe it to Chairman Mao."
TAPPER: And it was -- and you captured this when you -- in your documentary, and also in the previous hour, when you were doing "INSIDE POLITICS."
He had such a sense of humor.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
TAPPER: I mean, and what -- what -- you put it so well. He took the issues seriously, but he didn't take himself seriously.
And that is not easy to do, particularly in this town of egos. And he was the first to admit. He had as big an ego as the next guy, probably bigger.
But what was bigger than that was his love of country and his -- and the desire, deep-seated desire that has run through his veins and his family's bloodline for generations, to make this country really what it should be.
And that is something that we all saw and we learned from him about. But I'm glad that we're laughing, because that is exactly what John McCain would have wanted us to do. He was such a funny guy and made us all laugh.
I walked into the green room, and I called him a little jerk.
BASH: Because I thought that was an appropriate thing to do, because that was what John McCain called reporters. TAPPER: For people, Jay, who don't know you before your era working for the Obama White House, you were "TIME" magazine bureau chief, and you covered McCain.
And you and I were among a group of reporters that went to Vietnam with him for the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
When you think of covering McCain, what do you -- what do you remember?
JAY CARNEY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I remember his self- deprecation.
I had covered him a bit in the Senate in the late '90s, when he was fighting the tobacco companies and pushing campaign finance reform. And those were issues where he was taking on his own party often and taking on entrenched interests.
And he was fearless about it, but also very self-deprecating about it and fatalistic about failing all the time.
The first time I went with him on a campaign trip in that 2000 campaign, it was a commercial flight to New Hampshire. And it was John McCain, me and John Weaver. And McCain ignored me the whole time and read the paper.
CARNEY: And I thought, I don't think he's going to get very far.
KRISTOL: He always had good judgment.
CARNEY: He -- and I thought, this guy can't go anywhere.
And then, of course, that campaign was so exciting because it was so bootstrapped and unlikely. And he really -- he would have won, I think, had -- he crushed George W. Bush in 2000 in the New Hampshire primary.
The South Carolina primary was 10 days later. If it had been three or four days later, I think McCain might have ended up with the nomination.
And, Amanda, for a younger generation of conservatives, what does McCain mean? And I can't help but think that, like, part of the reason why there's such reverence for him today is because of who's in the White House right now, because they are polar opposites.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
I came to Washington in 2005 and spent the majority of my career before I came to CNN working as a reporter in the Senate and then as a staffer in the Senate. And you could not be in those buildings and not feel John McCain's presence.
He was the guy, when the tourists came, and he walked through the halls, everyone craned their necks to see him. And you just felt him every time he entered the room.
And I am thrilled that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed renaming the Russell Building the John McCain Building, because I hope every person who serves in those buildings feels his heroic presence for years and years to come.
TAPPER: It's really actually quite brilliant of Chuck Schumer to do this.
TAPPER: You get rid of Dick Russell's memory, a giant of the Senate, but also a horrific white supremacist who blocked civil rights legislation, a Democrat.
And you get to erase him from the Democratic archives. And it's a nice bipartisan moment.
KRISTOL: Yes, McCain would appreciate that, I think.
KRISTOL: He had a certain -- he was a clever tactician in the Senate, as well as being a very strong moral spokesman. But you mentioned going to the Senate in '05.
I got -- one of the most moving e-mails, for some reason, last night I got from a younger person who said: Bill, you may not remember this, but you recommended me to Salter for a job with -- Mark Salter, who was McCain's longtime chief staff and co-author.
You recommended me to Salter for a job with McCain, and I held that job for several years. It was -- it was the greatest honor of my life. And thank you for doing it.
And I -- I mean, it wasn't the thanks to me, but it was the fact -- then he's gone on to other things. And he's had a long career here in Washington, and will have a longer one ahead of him. But the years he spent working for McCain were special to him.
And that says a lot, I think.
BASH: And you mentioned Amanda, the fact that people need to know, and the fact that there is a big difference, to say the least, between John McCain and the man currently in the White House. And one of the biggest is his unwavering sense of history. And I just
-- one of the things that I keep thinking about was, after 9/11, and the Senate was debating the use of force resolution, he was running around, like -- like he did, like sort of fast as he possibly could, with a piece of paper.
And I said -- and I asked -- it was whatever draft it was that they were working on, on a bipartisan basis. And I said, are you going to vote for that?
He goes: "The Gulf of Tonkin. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution, don't you remember? It is what got us into the Vietnam War without authorization -- authorizing force officially. And this is exactly what's going to happen."
And whatever draft it was at the time completely sunk because John McCain brought that sense of history that he lived to this current -- or to that current debate.
TAPPER: And you talked about some of the fights he waged.
And one of them was the fight against torture in the Bush years.
One, it's a debate that President Trump has renewed, but the idea that torture should not be something that the Americans do. And he spoke with authority, because, of course, he had been tortured.
CARNEY: It's an extraordinary thing, because it's a popular position, shockingly in some ways, to demonstrate how tough you are on our enemies to be willing to do anything against them.
And yet John McCain understood from personal experience not only that torture was horrific, and that it often resulted in those being tortured making stuff up just to stop the torture, that it wasn't actually a useful tool, but that it was un-American fundamentally, even if it was effective, even those -- it was not what we do.
And he stood by that principle even when it caused him a lot of grief. And I remember you and I, when we were with him in Vietnam in the spring of 2000, he had recently lost his quest for the presidency.
And any time you tried to -- when we're going to the Hanoi Hilton, or we're going to the monument where he was -- his being shot down was celebrated by the North Vietnamese, he was always very -- he didn't really want to talk about himself and his own sacrifice.
And he would usually joke about it, instead of acknowledging just how gruesome it must have been.
TAPPER: And when he was asked about President Trump, then candidate Trump, denigrating his war service, saying, I prefer people who weren't captured, he did not want an apology for himself.
He would say: "I don't care. I can take it. But President Trump or candidate Trump should apologize to all the other POWs out there, because they deserve better than that." CARPENTER: Yes, and I think there's a lot of talk, was John McCain a conservative in his presidential election or not thereafter, as the conservative movement has changed dramatically?
And I think we have to remember that his military service shaped his world view and his approach to conservative values. And with that came the sense of duty, honor, service, and a code of conduct that I think everyone would do well to reflect upon today.
TAPPER: Senator Graham, of course, was one of his proteges in the Senate.
And I want to take a listen to Senator Graham sharing an emotional moment with his best friend earlier this year.
Do we have...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He is loyal to his friends. He loves his country. And if he has to stand up to his party for his country, so be it.
He would die for this country. I love him to death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: You're the one that asked the question, Dana.
And Senator Graham is not the only one that feels that way about John McCain in the Senate.
TAPPER: There are a lot of people. We're going to talk to a few -- a couple other senators, one a Democrat, in the next hour.
That was a town hall that we did here at CNN a couple months, three months into the Trump presidency. And the point was to talk about how the Republican Party deals with President Trump.
But that moment -- you're exactly right -- really does show the depth of friendships that John McCain had.
I think it's even fair to say that they -- they were love affairs that he had. And the man -- he was the manliest man, and yet unafraid to talk about how much he adored his friends.
TAPPER: All right, thanks, one and all. Two special tributes to Senator McCain tonight on CNN. The CNN premiere of the documentary "John McCain: For Whom The Bell Tolls," that's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. And our own Dana Bash is taking a special look at the life and legacy of Senator McCain, as well as CNN special report "John McCain: Moments That Made The Man," that airs at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time.
Younger lawmakers from both sides of the aisle called Senator McCain a mentor. Special edition of STATE OF THE UNION continues next. Stay with us.